So what does a surgeon like me do? We look to those who are unusually successful — the positive deviants. We watch them operate and learn their tricks, the moves they make we can take home.
Although the solutions to our health-cost problems are hard, there are solutions.
(from the foreword by Atul Gawande). The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the Word’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin, Monique Sternin.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: we don’t yet know how to do everything we are trying to do. And that can be a real problem.
The totals are now beyond what most of us could have only imagined — and feared. The total number of gallons of oil that have spewed into the Gulf from the BP disaster has probably surpassed 200 million gallons (The figures are not precise — I did the math from this web site). This is 18x the number of gallons from the Exxon Valdez disaster. It seems like such a long time ago that Tony Hayward, and Haley Barbour, and others, stated that the Gulf was a big ocean and would easily disperse the oil harmlessly. They were, sadly, wrong. We have learned that lesson the hard way.
And the new iPhone is running into turmoil that is building day after day. Partly because, in my opinion, AT&T was not yet ready to provide the infrastructure for all that technology. It was too much innovation and implementation too soon. The capacity to execute can not quite keep up with the needs of the era, with ever more challenging products and projects. Consider this excerpt of AT&T CTO: ‘We will move heaven and Earth’ to improve our network by Anthony Ha (full article here):
When VentureBeat Editor in Chief Matt Marshall got a chance to ask AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan a few questions on-stage, he asked what kinds of issues are holding back network quality. It’s a little bit of everything, Donovan replied. With a flood of new chipsets, phones, and applications, the traditional device testing and rollout methods have “broken down.” In addition, AT&T recently faced a shortage of the components needed to improve its network.
“I’ll tell you the things it’s not been,” Donovan said. “It’s not been capital, it’s not been conviction and commitment.” AT&T “will move heaven and Earth” to meet its customers’ growing data needs, he said.
I have blogged before (a few times) about the formulation from Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, re. the two great problems: ignorance and ineptitude. Here’s the key quote:
We have just two reasons that we may fail.
The first is ignorance – we may err because science has given us only a partial understanding of the world and how it works. There are skyscrapers we do not yet know how to build, snowstorms we cannot predict, heart attacks we still haven’t learned how to stop. The second type of failure the philosophers call ineptitude – because in these instances the knowledge exists, yet we fail to apply it correctly This is the skyscraper that is built wrong and collapses, the snowstorm whose signs the meteorologist just plain missed, the stab wound from a weapon the doctors forgot to ask about.
For nearly all of history, people’s lives have been governed primarily by ignorance.
But there is a third problem, one that does not quite have a name yet. Let’s call it the “we can’t keep up” syndrome. Maybe it is a subset of one of the two by Gawande. But it presents a unique challenge to the modern business environment.
It is not entirely new. In the early days of television, there were television set makers dependent on television networks dependent on television makers. It was a circle of interdependency, a complex set of interconnections, with officially disconnected but very interdependent companies needing every company in the mix to keep up. And keeping up was tough.
Just in the last year, television stations have switched to HD, needing the cable channels to provide slots for their new HD channels, with the cable channels needing the stations to broadcast in HD. Everything is so interconnected, interdependent. Everyone has to succeed for anyone to succeed – one has to succeed for all to possibly succeed.
And then, the ripple effects. There is now no doubt that people working in companies with much better safety records than BP are paying the price for BP’s failures. Jobs are leaving the Gulf for other oceans across the globe. The moratorium, which many object to (but – can you imagine if a second well had this kind of disaster right now?) means that costly equipment has to go where there is work. And then the equipment will be run by a new set of workers.
But here is the deal. Companies, entire industries, need to learn, adapt, innovate as they go…and it is tough to keep up.
Maybe the problem is not incompetence. Maybe the problem is not ineptitude (though there were serious mistakes made). Maybe it is simply that we are in a perpetual growth/innovation/need-to-get-it-right era, and there will always be a need for version 2.0 and 2.8 and 7.0 in nearly every arena.
If all it means is that I have to wait for the next software update on my iPhone, I’m ok with that. But if it destroys the environment on the Gulf Coast for hundreds of miles, then it becomes a much more serious matter.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Sharon Daniels for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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In each of the past three months, more employees quit their jobs than were terminated, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [click here]. This is good news for the economy but bad for individual businesses: when jobs become more plentiful, the first to exit are often the business’s most ambitious employees — the innovators, the risk-takers, the future leaders. The cost of replacing an employee is estimated at up to 250 percent of annual salary [click here].
An AchieveGlobal survey [click here] of 738 managers revealed that about one in four employees planned to leave their jobs within a year. A study reported in the May issue of Harvard Business Review [click here] revealed that 12% of high-potential employees were actively searching for a new job.
Why are employees walking away from their jobs, even with unemployment still hovering near 10 percent? Our studies show that the three biggest reasons are a lack of growth opportunities, dissatisfaction with compensation, and employees feeling their contributions aren’t being recognized. Growth and recognition are particularly important to younger workers, who have higher expectations of their employers than others do and are defecting in large numbers.
Regrettably, too many managers unwittingly encourage employees to walk out because they regard them as replaceable cogs in a wheel. The key to retaining valued employees is to manage them person-to-person rather than with one-size-fits-all management. Every employee marches to a different drummer; successful managers don’t make them parade in lockstep. Here are two keys for managing person-to-person:
• Personalize the position. Not everybody wants to manage people. Don’t force a brilliant solo performer to do it. Let those with bean counter personalities count the beans and let free spirits become free of boring tasks. Not everybody likes to travel. Don’t put those employees into sales or service jobs that cover large territories. Understand employees’ preferences before you create a team.
When you set up training programs, ask employees to identify the strengths they want to develop and weaknesses to shore up. Ask employees to suggest special projects they’ll find interesting; they can provide valuable ideas for the business. All this is increasingly possible as work becomes more specialized and there’s less need for can-do-everything employees.
• Personalize the rewards. Businesses are giving Christmas turkeys to employees who don’t have an oven. They’ll do much better by learning what each of their valued employees wants most and providing it. Young parents often put flextime at the top of their wants list. Many young people expect a collegial environment and lots of mentoring and encouragement [click here].
Across-the-board perks eventually become seen as entitlements, anyway. Witness what happened in April at the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen: It allowed the brewers unlimited beer drinking at lunch and gave each brewer two cases of free beer monthly — but when it eliminated drinking during working hours strike.
The most common reason why managers are recognition misers is lack of time, our studies show. But it takes little effort to make a commendation that has impact. Be specific with your praise: A perfunctory “You did a nice job” isn’t nearly as strong as “I want to thank you for what you did on this project because it increased output by 24 percent and our department’s number one in the company.”
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Sharon Daniels is chief executive of AchieveGlobal, which provides performance improvement consulting and solutions in leadership, sales, and customer service. With offices in 42 countries, the company offers customized learning in 30 languages and dialects. Contact Ms. Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is an article that was published in strategy+business magazine (November 24, 2009)
In my opinion, it is a “must read” for all business leaders who (a) are planning to launch a new company, (b) have recently done so, or (c) are now involved with an organization that is struggling (with unsatisfactory results) to survive the current economic recession/depression/whatever.
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The U.S. military’s elite training programs offer a model for the strategic deployment of human capital and for building effective teams.
During the fall of 2001, a small task force of U.S. military special operations forces arrived in Afghanistan. It was named Task Force Dagger, and its mission was to work with the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban and uproot the terrorist training camps they were harboring. In just a few months, fewer than 200 Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Special Tactics operators expelled nearly 100,000 entrenched Taliban and al Qaeda forces. It was an extraordinary success, and one that drew heavily on the multifaceted capabilities of special operations forces, who can build alliances with local fighters (all Army Special Forces must learn a second language, for example), infiltrate enemy lines, and bring to bear intense firepower in small, mobile units. Many Americans remember the now-iconic photograph, taken during that operation, of a U.S. special operator on horseback, holding the reins of his horse in one hand and a satellite phone in the other. In that picture, he is wearing long hair, a beard, and traditional Afghani robes. It’s a portrait of a modern-day, high-tech warrior equally at ease with Kevlar and leather, comfortable both launching a commando raid and helping local villagers improve their water supply.
The post–9/11 world has brought U.S. military special operations into the limelight as never before. For many observers, there is something inspiring and even mysterious about these highly trained teams of men (like all frontline U.S. combat troops, they are all male) who are motivated to achieve their mission at any cost. In business, we talk about being willing to “walk through walls” to achieve our goals, but special operations teams really do things like that.
So what’s the secret? What’s so special about special operations? Can business professionals learn something from them besides the obvious truisms about the importance of focus and discipline? In fact, the effectiveness of special operations forces is rooted in a carefully designed and comprehensive system of recruiting, training, infrastructure support, leadership, and organizational culture.
Can private-sector organizations emulate these techniques in the same consistent and integrated manner? They can, although we must acknowledge the significant differences between the private sector and the military. For example, in the military you make a long-term commitment (often four or six years in special operations) and cannot just quit because you find a better job. You have a legal requirement to follow the orders of your superior officers. Service members are also, explicitly or implicitly, willing to risk their lives to defend their country.
For the moment, however, let’s set these differences aside and look at what we can learn from the key elements of this high-performance system. As we’ll see, in fact, many special operations practices can be and have been adapted to the corporate world.
The term special operations forces (SOF for short) refers to a wide variety of specialized forces in all four of the armed services. The lessons that follow are based primarily on a study of three major groups of SOF: the Army Special Forces (also known as Green Berets), the Navy SEALs, and Air Force Special Tactics units. Their fame is disproportionate to their numbers: There are only about 15,000 special operations servicemen in a military of more than 2 million active-duty and reserve personnel.
Although their missions overlap quite a bit, each of these special operations groups receives slightly different training and has a slightly different focus. Army Special Forces are often used to help train indigenous forces, for example, whereas Navy SEALs tend to be used more for direct action engagements. Air Force Special Tactics forces include Pararescuemen, a specialized group of search-and-rescue trauma paramedics, and combat controllers, who call in airstrikes from the field.
Special operations forces use an attraction strategy to get access to the best raw talent in the military. Their elite status is a magnetic draw for young men who want to prove themselves and be among the best. The average education level of special operations recruits is above that for conventional forces, and it is not uncommon to find individuals with advanced degrees from top colleges or managerial experience in a corporation. The exclusive branding of special operations draws many recruits at the front end, where a high percentage are turned down before even being given a chance in the selection program.
When it comes to recruitment, SOF units are not unlike highly desirable employers in their ability to attract the best. Their selectivity has another positive effect: It is well documented that the steeper the hurdle to get accepted into a group, the more loyalty and commitment you have to it once you’re in. This certainly motivates the bankers at elite firms like Goldman Sachs, where the prospective status, pay, and influence that go along with being a partner propel them to work long hours and develop extraordinary loyalty to the organization if and when they do reach that elite inner circle.
The training that SOF personnel go through is a key to their success in real missions. Their training is in-depth, realistic, and repetitive, and it is run by the most experienced SOF operators — not classroom-schooled educators. This type of training puts true meaning into the overused term total immersion. If you add up the different phases of training that SOF candidates must go through, including specialized courses (such as high-altitude free-fall parachuting) and advanced training in their units, it may take two or three years at minimum to produce a fully developed SOF operator.
Five important aspects of SOF training reveal why it’s so effective, and also why much of the one-off, classroom-based training conducted by private-sector companies is of limited value.
Not-for-profits know a lot about managing with zilch. That’s right. A bit counter-intuitive, eh?
Cherished, valuable brands like Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity and Make a Wish could teach a lot to start-ups, government, even ginormous businesses about how to build brand equity… without taking a Superbowl ad or spending gazillions of dollars on a fancy Madison Avenue firm, focus groups, and pretty PowerPoints.
Here are five simple lessons from terrific not-for-profits that will help you build a brand, without breaking the bank:
1. Open source your tagline. Ask your customer to describe your product or service in a sentence.
2. Rub up against your vendors/partners. Do some of these collaborators have shiny brands that appeal to your target market? Ask them to Tweet about you, publicly post you on their website, or have your CEO’s co-author an Op-Ed (or HuffPo piece). When DoSomething.org partners with Pepsi, we’re saying we’re a fighter brand. Another great example is the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval on Cheerios.
3. Write it down. Does everyone in your company know your key words? Your banned words? Even the tech guys and finance team at Nothing But Nets have a one-page version of their brand overview brief. It’s not just an email that was sent out by the head of marketing, it’s something everyone lives and breathes.
4. Be your target market. You should be your focus group. Your office should be full of people who actually use your product or service. Instead of constantly hiring focus groups and agencies, live it! Dress for Success often hires former clients and the CEO of Livestrong is a cancer survivor himself. Does your CEO — but also your receptionist, your legal counsel, and your mailroom clerk — love your product or service?
5. Look in the mirror. Do you only evaluate your brand position when there is a crisis? That’s like waiting to wash your face until you have a pimple. Great brand management requires daily use of Clean and Clear.
Nancy Lublin is the CEO of DoSomething.org, the founder of Dress for Success, a columnist for Fast Company, and the author of Zilch: The Power of Zero In Business.
Jacobs is the founder and managing partner of 180 Partners, and the author of Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn’t Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science. For more than two decades, he has worked with leaders in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. to improve the performance of their businesses, numbering among his clients fifty of the Fortune 100. His unique approach uses our understanding of how the brain works to comprehensively rethink businesses, creating more robust competitive strategies and the performance-oriented organizations needed to implement them. His work provides the key to overcome the number one obstacle to meaningful improvement in business performance—the rapid and effective management of change.
Morris: Before asking you to discuss specific issues addressed in your brilliant book, Management Rewired, a few general questions. When and why did you first become interested in brain science?
Jacobs: Even as a child, I was fascinated by the mind. I played baseball and did the other things that kids do, but I would find myself standing in the outfield thinking about how the mind worked, usually as the ball dropped in front of me. In my early teens, I stumbled across The Collected Works of Sigmund Freud, and was set for a career as a psychoanalyst.
After my freshman year in college, I landed a job in a state mental hospital, working with schizophrenics. One would give speeches to an unseen audience that could become testy at times, another would periodically be commanded by God to smite sinners with his cane, and a third would walk up and down the hall all day repeating, “Red light, green light.” For the first time, I started to appreciate how profoundly different our versions of the world could be.
Behavioral science didn’t help me understand any of what I had experienced in the hospital. I started to explore other fields, such as literature, philosophy, linguistics, social psychology, evolutionary biology, and history of science. After graduate school, I taught in various colleges and universities, but I found it rather insular. When I moved to the business world, I was able to focus on the practical applications of my work.
I’ve always read whatever I could get my hands on, regardless of the field, and in the early nineties, I came across some of the early research using MRIs to track the flow of information through the brain. I found it stunning that we could finally move beyond theory and actually see the brain at work. We could watch as the brain assembled our experience of the world from our perceptions, desires, emotions, and memories.
When my first company was acquired and I was sidelined with a non-compete agreement, I decided to pursue my research full-time. I spent two years learning everything I could about this new field called neuroscience and another two years trying to put the pieces together in a book that people would want to read.
Morris: Some of the worst business mistakes are made because of false assumptions and premises. Presumably you agree with what Peter Drucker observed in 1963: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Jacobs: In business, we have an understandable preoccupation with rationalization and efficiency to reduce costs. But such efficiency takes time to develop, while the market environment changes rapidly. We get really good at building planned obsolescence into cars, only to find we’re trumped by those who went for quality instead.
This is mirrored in the brain. The more we use a neural network responsible for a thought or a behavior, the more deeply ingrained it becomes until it’s on automatic. Since change requires attention and energy, we unconsciously opt instead for getting better and better at doing things that no longer make sense.
Morris: Most change initiatives fail and reasons vary but in many instances, the resistance is cultural, the result of what James O’Toole aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Your own thoughts about resistance to change?
Jacobs: Our minds favor the status quo and deceive us into thinking there is no reason to change. Culture then becomes a product of many minds reinforcing each other in this mistaken belief. So we need to count on resistance to change whenever we design a new initiative.
At the same time, our brains have evolved to deal with change. Old neural networks die off, and new ones are created all the time in response to the environment. But we’ve got to attend to the change and have a reason to endure the discomfort it brings. It’s almost as if our brains are saying, “If you want me to change, convince me that change is needed and it will benefit me.”
General Motors’s bankruptcy has captured the attention of the employees, but real change will only take hold only when there’s the promise of a different kind of company that will better meet the needs of its people.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to your latest work, Management Rewired. I am intrigued by both its title and subtitle, hence these questions. First, does management (as an organizational component) need to be “rewired” or do the mindsets of managers need to be “rewired”?
Jacobs: This is a book about fundamentally changing the way we think about management, and that requires stopping the way we currently think. People don’t ordinarily think about management as wiring, let alone rewiring, so the combination of the two words is just unexpected enough to stop the mind’s automatic processing. The word “management” refers both to a system and a group of people called managers, and both need to be rewired.
Neuroscientists see the brain as wired since it works through electrical impulses sent through networks of nerve cells. Hopefully, the evidence that our commonly accepted management practices fail is the spur that opens the mind to the new, scientifically-based ideas of how to manage. These ideas change the wiring, leading to different ways of thinking and behaving.
But as O’Toole’s quote makes it clear, it’s easier not to change and simply revert to habit. I’ve always thought of management structure and systems as the way to compensate for human fallibility. If self-management is wired into the organization, it makes it easier for managers to shift their role from controlling to supporting.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
For more invormation about Management Rewired, please click here.
To check out the blog, please click here.
To visit the 180 Partners’ website, click here.
For more information about 180 Partners’ thinking, please click here.